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Brazil visits Sussex prison, investigates lockdown complaints

(Published June 28, 1999)

By REBECCA CHARRY

Staff Writer

D.C. Councilman Harold Brazil, D-At large, chairman of the judiciary committee June 24 visited the Sussex Prison in southern Virginia where about 1,200 D.C. inmates are held in "lockdown" in their cells up to 21 hours a day.

He said he made the trip to prove a point.

"It shows the prison people we’re concerned up here, not just the families but the elected officials," he said.

"We’ve gotten a lot of complaints coming in that the lockdown is excessive. I asked pointedly about the lockdown and they said they intend to loosen their grip. But they didn’t give me a timetable for that."

Brazil said he was shown the rubber bullets that officers fire at inmates who disobey verbal commands.

All D.C. inmates transferred to the facility were reclassified according to Virginia standards, said corrections spokesman Larry Trayler. Some have ended up under much stricter controls than they experienced at Lorton or at the Youngstown, Ohio, facility operated by Corrections Corp. of America.

Inmates also complained of the $5 co-payment they are charged for medical care in the prison, Brazil added.

"They have very few jobs and the jobs pay so little it would take you a long time to earn the five dollars," the councilman said.

Brazil said prison officials assured him that no one in need of medical care would be turned away for lack of money and that the co-payment was intended to discourage frivolous sick calls.

Brazil said he also met with Hulon Willis Jr., the on-site contract monitor employed by the District to make sure Virginia corrections officials stick to the contract they signed with the District.

Brazil said the inmates were glad to see him.

"I expect they’d be glad to see anyone from the District," he said. "When you’re in bad shape to begin with and then you’re away from home, you feel really up the creek."

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator